The Band, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”

“There was a chord progression and melody rumbling through my head, but I didn’t know yet what the song was about," said Robbie Robertson.

The Band is one of the most respected and successful acts of the rock era, but you wouldn’t know it from their chart history. Some of the group’s legendary songs, like “The Weight” and “Ophelia,” never even cracked the top 50 as singles. “The Night They Drove OId Dixie Down,” from the group’s second album, became one of their best-known numbers as well as a classic story song, even though it was originally the B-side of the single “Up On Cripple Creek.” A Civil War narrative written in the first-person voice of a southerner by The Band’s guitarist Robbie Robertson, and sung by The Band’s southern drummer Levon Helm, “The Night They Drove OId Dixie Down” chronicles the final days of the War Between the States through the eyes of a southern farmer and Confederate soldier named Virgil Caine. In his 2016 book Testimony, Robertson recounted the origins of the song, discussing the fact that he, like everyone in the group but Helm, was from Canada and not all that educated about the Civil War. “There was a chord progression and melody rumbling through my head, but I didn’t know yet what the song was about. I played it on…

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